One nation under God?

David Epps's picture

Someone said there were about 1,500 Marines present for the opening of the recent National Convention of the Marine Corps League in Mobile, Ala. Almost none of them were on active duty, however. Yet, as the Commandant of the Marine Corps has stated, and as Marines have known for decades, “once a Marine, always a Marine.” There are no former or ex-Marines.

In the throng were Marines who had served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Desert Wars and everywhere in between. Some were on oxygen, others in wheel chairs or being assisted by canes or walkers, but still others looked as though they could slip right back into their uniforms and go back into battle.

On opening day, the colors were presented and the Marines were called to attention to salute the flag and were then led in the Pledge of Allegiance. The auditorium was filled with the solemn sound of hundreds of warriors, old and young, male and female, reciting the Pledge.

I was among them. When we came to the words, “one nation under God,” my voice cracked and my eyes became misty.

I first remember the Pledge of Allegiance as a first grader in Dickson Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee. Every single day, the teacher in this public school had us learn and recite Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer, and, standing at attention, facing the American flag with our right hands over our hearts, The Pledge.

As the years rolled on, we didn’t do the Psalm or the prayer in every grade (although a student usually said a prayer over the public address system each day), but the Pledge was standard. It became part of who we were and what we believed.

We believed that America was a great and blessed place, that we were fortunate to be Americans, and that God had smiled upon our land.

Oh, we would learn in American History classes that the nation had deep flaws and a history that sometimes made us wince but, still, we were proud of the fact that we were part of what we believed was the greatest nation on earth.

I don’t know when some schools began to stop requiring the Pledge or when some people began suggesting, even demanding, that the words “under God” be removed. I knew that those words weren’t in the original version but, to me, they fit and helped me to believe in the goodness of our people and our land.

When I joined the Marine Corps, the Drill Instructors, said that we were to be loyal to God, Country, and Corps. Of course we would be, I thought back then. After all, we were a nation “under God.” Surely we would be loyal.

Yet, standing there amidst the veterans of so many wars, in the presence of genuine American heroes, I wondered how long it would be before those words — under God — would be expunged from the Pledge we were reciting.

I wondered if the current crop of first graders knew the Pledge or would ever know the words of the Pledge. Would they believe that America was a great and blessed place? Would they come to see America as an exceptional nation of freedom, opportunity, and hope?

The question went unanswered because the answer is not yet given.

Are we a nation “under God?” I have no answer to that question anymore either. Once I would have said, “Yes.” The Marines in Mobile believed thus but they did not and cannot speak for everyone.

Perhaps that’s why my throat became tight and my eyes misty. It wasn’t the response of a warm emotion, I knew. It wasn’t pride. It was fear.

I fear we are losing our national way.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the associate endorser for U. S. military chaplains for his denomination. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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